Every couple fights. Every couple fights differently.
My wife and got in a “fight” last week. (She calls it a disagreement but it’s probably what it looks like for us to fight). It wasn’t super serious, yet it was uncomfortable. We had a difference of opinion. She was frustrated about something I did, while I didn’t think it was a big deal. Primarily, it came down to point-of-view. She had one point of view on something, while I had a different one. Without going into a ton of detail (because that’s not the point of this post nor the kind of content I blog about), suffice it to say we disagreed about which people should or should not be hearing about a personal family decision.
When I stood in her shoes, I could see why she was frustrated with me. From where I stood, I hadn’t paused at all as I took a certain action. I apologized for what I did, took responsibility for it and affirmed the validity of her perspective. She forgave me and we moved on. This is how our relationship works. We don’t do grudges. When we say, “I forgive you,” we mean it. And we have really honest conversations so this stuff doesn’t have to fester.
A couple days later, my wife came back to me and said, “Hey, I think I know why I reacted so strongly.” I was intrigued by the prospect of digging deeper into her thought process, so I asked her to share more. She said, “Well, this is about that.” And then we spent time digging into the deeper reason.
Unpacking “This is About That”
My wife and I are both sold-out believers in the truth of “this is about that.” We first encountered this idea in Rob Bell’s book, Sex God. Whatever your opinion of Rob Bell’s writings, this concept is gold! In the book, Bell shares how when we’re dealing with our sexuality, we’ll inevitably deal with our spirituality. Our beliefs about one impact and influence the other. He plays this out into other spheres where we deal with an issue, only to discover “the issue behind the issue”. When you’re dealing with the issue behind the issue, you’re dealing with a situation where this is really about that.
My wife’s frustration wasn’t totally about my mistake. It was about a larger issue in our relationship we hadn’t been dealing with appropriately. Sure, I could make sure and not make the same mistake again, but my wife was going to get frustrated with something else I did. That is, unless we dealt with the subject she brought to me a couple days after our initial “fight.”
Other “This is About That” Examples
Let’s shift from me and my marriage to you and your life.
There are two or five maybe even twenty places in your life where “this is about that” right now. The issue you’re dealing with at work? There’s probably a deeper issue behind that issue. Your fight with your spouse about the laundry or the dishes or how you spent last month eating out – it’s not really about the laundry, dishes or amount you spend each month at Chipotle. This is about that.
Understanding the power of “this is about that” can literally change our lives. It helps us manage people, parent our kids, interact with our roommates, strengthen our marriages, or even understand ourselves so much better than we would otherwise.
Think back to your last confrontation with someone you love and ask “what did we fight about? Was that really the issue or was this issue about that (something else)? What could that something else be?”
Think back to the last time you became frustrated with how something works in your office, family or church. Got it? Ask yourself, “What was I so fired up about? Was it really about this or was it really about that?”
Like giving a couple Advil to someone whose severed their finger, you can deal with the pain of”this” all you want. But until you figure out what “that” is which is producing “this”, you’re just running circles and wasting your time.
“This is About That” and Fear
The conversation my wife I had initially about a mistake I made wasn’t nearly as scary as the follow-up conversation we started. Not making the mistake again is pretty easy compared to the difficulty of wading into the larger challenge within our marriage.
Changing this is always harder than changing that. Talking about this is always less scary than talking about that. Understanding and making progress on the initial issue is always less demanding and safer than exploring and transforming the issue behind the issue. But this is where the real lasting changes comes from – dealing with the issues under the issues, the “that” instead of just this.
I’m so grateful that my wife has self-awareness. She knew enough to ask herself why she reacted so strongly to something I did. She knew to ask herself “Is this about that?” She explored what “that” might be and then had the courage to share what she learned with me. And so we’re working on “that” between Ash Wednesday and Easter as part of our Lenten experience.
This is about that is one of the most helpful, portable and effective tools to give us the kind of perspective we need today. Take it for a test drive today. I’d love to know what you find!
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This is about that.